Government Data About Searches of International Travelers' Laptops and Personal Electronic Devices

August 25, 2010

In response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking documents about the government’s policy of searching travelers’ laptops and cell phones at U.S. border crossings without suspicion of wrongdoing, the government has released thousands of pages of documents about the policy. The records reveal new information about how many devices have been searched, what happens to travelers’ files once they are in the government’s possession, and travelers’ complaints about how they are treated by border officials.

The ACLU's analysis of the documents reveals:

  • Between October 2008 and June 2010, over 6,500 people traveling to and from the United States had their electronic devices searched at the border.  Nearly half of these people were U.S. citizens.
  • The devices the government searched included laptops, cell phones, cameras, hard drives, flash drives, and even DVDs.
  • Between October 2008 and June 2009, cell phones were the most commonly searched electronic devices, followed by laptops and digital cameras.
  • Between July 2008 and June 2009, border agents transferred data found on travelers' electronic devices to other federal agencies over 280 times. Half of the time, these unnamed agencies asserted an independent basis for retaining or seizing the data.

Below is an index with links to the documents received by the ACLU in response to our Laptop Search FOIA request.

Those interested in analyzing the data themselves may find these spreadsheets useful.

Customs and Border Protection Documents

Bates Stamp Range Subject/Title Description
000000 Travelers Subjected to Electronic Media Searches, 10/01/08 to 06/02/10 A series of charts breaking down the number of people subjected to electronic media searches at the border between 10/01/08 and 06/02/10 by gender, race, and nationality.
000001-000010 CBP Directive: Border Search of Devices Containing Information Aug. 20, 2009 directive detailing CBP procedures for laptop search and seizure at the border
000011-000012 Inspection of Electronic Devices Fact sheet given to travellers whose electronic devices have been detained
000013-000063 Privacy Impact Assessment for the Border Searches of Electronic Devices Aug. 25, 2009 analysis of privacy issues arising from border searches
000064-000068 Memo re: Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information July 5, 2007 memo from Assistant Commissioner of Office of Field Operations to directors of same office containing strategies for "examining, copying, and disseminating" info gathered in searches
000069 Document and Electronic Media Transmittal Record Form to be filled out in the case of a detention and search
000070-000073 Weekly Musters, 2007-07 & 2007-11 Two memos re: Operational Guidance for Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information
000074-000075 Redacted email Email dated Feb. 27, 2008, virtually all other info redacted
000076-000085 CBP Detroit: Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information [REDACTED] Standard Operating Procedures Oct. 24, 2007 document outlining guidelines for border searches
000086-000090 Emails regarding CBP search policies Two redacted email exchanges, one from Feb. 2008 and the other from July 2007, between CBP employees regarding detention and copying of electronic info
000091-000094 CBP Port of Anchorage Standard Operating Procedure: Data Image Searches SOP issued May 17, 2007, regarding data image searches
000095-000100 Port of Buffalo: Reference Request #2(a)(b) Email dated July 11, 2007 and attached document, both redacted, re: Examining and Copying Documents
000101-000107 CBP Miami Service Port Standard Operating Procedures SOP re: Operational Guidance for Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information
000108-000109 Weekly Muster 2007-11 Memo re: Operational Guidance for Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information (see 000072)
000110 Document and Electronic Media Transmittal Record Form to be filled out in the case of a detention and search (see 000069)
000111-000112 Weekly Muster 2007-07 Memo re: Operational Guidance for Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information (see 000070)
000113-000116 CBP San Juan Field Office: Inspection of Portable Hard Drives Jan. 23, 2008 memo with interim guidelines attached
000117-000124 Emails regarding San Francisco lawsuit filed against CBP Emails between CBP employees dated from Nov. 2007 to March 2008 and attached newspaper article regarding San Francisco lawsuit
000125-000130 Muster 2008-09 Revised: Ensuring Proper Documentation of the Border Search of Information Revised guidelines for documenting border searches
000131-000132 Memo re: Clarification to Ensure Proper Documentation of Border Search Information (BSI) in TECS Applications Dec. 11, 2008 memo from Executive Director of Office of Field Operations clarifying BSI data entry procedures
000133-000134 Memo re: New Policy regarding Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information July 18, 2008 memo from Assistant Commissioner of Office of Field Operations outlining new search policy
000135-000139 CBP Policy Regarding Border Search of Information Border search policy enacted July 16, 2008
000140-000145 Muster 2008-09: Ensuring Proper Documentation of the Border Search of Information Original version of 000125; guidelines for documenting border searches
000146-000572 Document and Electronic Device Information Control Records/Document and Electronic Media Transmittal Records Over 400 filled-out records regarding transfers of information from CBP to third-party agencies; heavily redacted
000573-000679 CBP Electronic Media Reports Several reports spanning from Oct. 2008 to June 2009, detailing searches of electronic devices; heavily redacted.
000680-000863 Correspondence between CBP and concerned citizens/officials Several emails and letters between CBP and citizens/public officials concerned with the search policy's constitutionality and legitimacy
000864-000871 U.S. Customs and Border Protection Directive Directive, issued 12/11/08, outlining the CBP Self Inspection Program (SIP)
000872-000874 Self Inspection Questions, Citations, and Guidance Outlines questions that port directors must answer in Self Inspection Worksheets, and provides guidelines for completeing these worksheets.
000875-002470 Self Inspection Worksheets Hundreds of completed worksheets and supporting documents. Most records seem to include several sheets: Self Inspection Guidance; Self Inspection Citations; Certification Statement; Approval Statement; Self-Inspection Worksheet; Self Inspection Researcher List; and Self Inspection Worksheet Audit Trail.
002471-002477 Self Inspection Reporting Results Charts summarizing the "approved" Self Inspection Worksheets submitted between July 2008 and June 2009.
002478-003618 Custody Receipts for Seized Property and Evidence Hundreds of completed records describing seized property. NOTE: Digital version is not in order by Bates number.
003619-003620 Memo re: [Redacted] for Child Pornography Partially redacted memo from Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, providing operational guidance on electronic searches
003621-003622 Muster 2009-10, Topic: [Redacted] for Child Pornography Seems to be same text as memo above
003623-003626 Laptop Search Policies and Procedures, Briefing for the ART Sparse pamphlet including laptop search stats and bullet points on the search policy
003627-003629 Laptop Searches/Border Search of Information Flyer that includes laptop search stats, an overview and history of the search policy, and challenges the policy faces
003630-003800 Standard Operating Procedures re: Border Searches of Information Several SOPs detailing all aspects of the BSI policies (such as documentation, detention, transfer, copies); many of these documents seem to repeat in some capacity
003801-003950 Electronic Media Detention Reports Summaries of detained electronic media; each report includes a "Current Electronic Media Detentions by Detaining Agency" chart and a "Resolved Media Detentions by Detaining Agency" chart (with agencies redacted).
003951-004140 Media Detention Narratives More extensive but redacted accounts of media detentions.
004141-004213 Electronic Media Reports (Examinations/Detentions and Seizures) Same as the Electronic Media Reports from the first production; fill in the date gaps
004214-004231 Memos regarding concerns about search policy Several emails, many heavily redacted. Those that are readable seem to be from concerned individuals who have some sort of prior connection with the CBP employee they are emailing.
004232-004233 Laptop Inspections Legal, Rare, Essential A press release from Jayson Ahern, Deputy Commissioner of CBP, clearing up "misinformation" about the search policy.
004446-005651 Border search/detention records Hundreds of records which seem to contain limited information about media searches and seizures at the border. Much of the information is in code or redacted. Some records include incident summaries.

 

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Department of Homeland Security Documents

Bates Stamp Range Subject/Title Description
DHS000001-DHS000005 Policy Regarding Border Search of Information July 16, 2008 CBP policy guide
DHS000006-DHS000015 Subject: Border Search of Electronic Devices Containing Information August 20, 2009 CBP directive outlining the electronic device border search policy
DHS000016-DHS000025 Directive Title: Border Searches of Electronic Devices August 18, 2009 ICE directive outlining electronic device border search policy
DHS000026-DHS000076 Privacy Impact Assessment for the Border Searches of Electronic Devices August 25, 2009 PIA addressing the privacy concerns raised by the CBP and ICE border search policies.
DHS000077-DHS000085 Hearing Before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security: US Customs and Border Patrol- Questions for the Record [Partially Redacted] Hearing on Border Security: Challenges and Priorities of the CBP - questions and response, date: 3/6/08
DHS000086-DHS000100 U.S. Department of Homeland Security Public Affairs Guidance: Border Search Policy Background, talking points, external/internal question and answer - detailed justification for laptop search, last modified: 10/23/08
DHS000101-DHS000105 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Memorandum for: Directors, Field Operations Office of Field Operations Subject: [Redacted] Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information - outlined Three Phase Strategy, date: 7/5/07
DHS000106 Department of Homeland Security: U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Document and Electronic Media Transmittal Record Addendum to the Dentention Notice and Chain of Custody Receipt - example document of traveler information detention
DHS000107-DHS000108 Weekly Muster 2007-07, Topic: Operational Guidance for Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information [Redacted] Guidance relating to initial review, copying, transmitting, and retaining of documents, week of muster: upon receipt
DHS000109 Customs and Border Protection, Field Operations Program Analysis and Measures: Weekly Electronic Media Report Data table of total media action (electronic media searches, detentions, and seizures), date: 4/29/09-5/5/09
DHS000110-DHS000113 Success Stories from Electronic Media Searches Examples of successful search predicated upon searches of electronic media at the border (child pornography, financial, national security)
DHS000114-DHS000115 U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Letter from Janet Napolitano to Senator Russell D. Feingold Letter responds to the Senator with an explanation of the atuthority of the CBP to conduct border searches under Federal Law and addresses his concerns of profiling, date: 10/9/09
DHS000116-DHS000126 U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Third Quarterly Report Outline of CRCL mission, summary of complaint investigations/solutions/ongoing issues, CRCL programs, equal employment opportunity, period covered: 4/1/08-6/30/08
DHS000127-DHS000144 Homeland Security Laptop Search Policy and Procedures: Briefing for the ART [Redacted] Key points, court cases, statistics, international threats, date: 12/8/08
DHS000145-DHS000152 U.S. Department of Homeland Security Public Affairs Guidance: Border Search Policy Background, talking points, question and answer, last modified: 9/30/08
DHS000153-DHS000156 Border Searches of Electronic Devices Detail of cases: child pornography, financial, national security
DHS000157-DHS000158 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Memorandum for: Directors, Field Operations Director, Pre-Clearance Office of Field Operations Subject: New Policy regarding Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information - legal and policy guidelines, date: 7/18/08
DHS000159-DHS000163 U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Policy Regarding Border Search of Information Sets forth the legal and policy guidelines within which officers may serach, review, retain, and share information, date: 7/16/08
DHS000164-DHS000169 Weekly Muster 2008-09, Topic: Ensuring Proper Documentation of the Border Search of Information [Partially Redacted] explanation of new policy procedures (as of 7/16/08) for legally searching, reviewing, retaining and sharing information, week of muster: upon receipt
DHS000170-DHS000179 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE Policy System Directive Title: Border Searches of Documents and Electronic Media - summary of policy changes, issue date: 7/16/08
DHS000180-DHS000181 Note for Assistant Secretary Myers Subject: [Partially Redacted] Suspicious Files Located During Media Exploitation in Furtherance of a Border Search - issue report and background, date: 1/30/08
DHS000182-DHS000183 Note for Assistant Secretary Myers Subject: [Partially Redacted] Suspicious Files Located During Media Exploitation in Furtherance of a Border Search - issue report and background, date: 7/19/08
DHS000239-DHS000388 Emails regarding border search policy Set of multiple email conversations between DHS employees discussing talking points and statistics as well as the policy itself
DHS000493-DHS000544 Appendices B, C, & D Appendix B outlines the border search policy, Appendix C is a directive titled "Border Searches of Documents and Electronic Media," and Appendix D is a list of laws and regulations enforced by CBP. It is unclear to what these documents were originally appended.
DHS000546-DHS000547 Border Search of Documents and Electronic Devices by DHS - Talking Points DHS talking points regarding the border search policy
DHS000548-DHS000557 GC Confirmation Issue: Border Search of Laptop Computers Memo discussing the search policy and outlining talking points and FAQs.
DHS000691-DHS000692 Field Guidance on Handling Detained or Seized Electronic Media from Persons of National Security Interest at Ports of Entry March 15, 2007 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo
DHS000693-DHS000694 Field Guidance Regarding Border Searches of Electronic Media April 16, 2009 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo
DHS000695-DHS000696 Emails re: Ninth Circuit Decision Upholding Suspicionless Searches of Laptops May 2008 email exchange and blurb discussing a Ninth Circuit decision
DHS000697-DHS000705 Ahern Testimony Email with June 25, 2008 testimony of Jayson Ahern, Deputy Commissioner of CBP at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Laptop Searches and Other Violations of Privacy Faced by Americans Returning from Overseas Travel"
DHS000706-DHS000707 Email re: Laptop Searches Email with attached list of laptop searches talking points
DHS000708-DHS000710 CBP Laptop Searches Op-Ed Email with attached Op-Ed defending laptop searches
DHS000711-DHS000716 Policy Regarding Border Search of Information Email with attached border search guidelines issued July 16, 2008
DHS000717-DHS000738 Border Searches of Document and Electronic Media Two different emails with seemingly-same attached directive, issued July 16, 2008, outlining border search guidelines
DHS000739 Use of Border Search Authority for Documents and Electronic Media July 18. 2008 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo
DHS000740-DHS000741 Talking Points Feb. 22, 2008 email with draft of talking points about laptop searches
DHS000742-DHS000745 Procedures for Examining Documents and Papers Feb. 4, 2000 directive providing guidelines for document searches
DHS000768-DHS000777 CBP signage A series of what appear to be signs that might be posted at CBP checkpoints, warning travelers about various policies
DHS000789-DHS000790 Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers and Electronic Information July 5, 2007 CBP memo
DHS000791-DHS000793 Interim Procedures for Border Search/Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information CBP operational guidance (undated)
DHS000794 Document and Media Transmittal Record CBP form to be filled out when seized media is transferred to another agency (same as first production)
DHS000795-DHS000796 Weekly Muster 2007-07 Topic: Operational Guidance for Border Search/ Examination of Documents, Papers, and Electronic Information
DHS000828-DHS000829 Untitled email Feb. 22, 2008 email with CBP talking points about laptop searches
DHS000846-DHS000855 CBP signage A series of what appear to be signs that might be posted at CBP checkpoints, warning travelers about various policies (see DHS000768-777)

 

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